How to Cook the Perfect Fried Egg (on Toast, with Coffee)

IMG_1117There are four essential elements to the perfect morning.  The first, obviously, is a cup of good coffee.

The second,  good music.

The third, a fried egg.

It also happens to be, I’ve decided, the best indication of one’s level of cookery.

Something so simply achieved, yet almost even more so easily butchered.  I cringe when I order a breakfast of fried eggs at a cafe, only to be presented with A) a couple of clear, shiny snot-like egg whites and cold liquid yolks or, worse, B) a matte-colored egg white mass surrounding two firm and lifeless powdery yellow globs.  I can only hope that maybe, possibly, an order of “over-medium” will imply that I am hoping for something in between slimy mucus and a yellow brick.  But due to the fact that my egg ordering experiences at various brunch spots has proved to be both inconsistent and unreliable, I’ve taken it upon myself to ensure that when I’m the one cooking, I know how to do it right.

This is something that has taken me quite a long time to master.  My whole life, in fact.

But I do believe I recently broke the code, and like The Sound of Music I want to sing it from the mountain tops with such joy for the world to hear!

There are certain aspects to my surefire recipe for success that are absolutely essential in cooking a fried egg, and these will be noted in bold.  That which isn’t bolded are simply a few personal preferences, little suggestions to kick it up a notch or ten.

You will need:

  • Eggs (2) of very good quality.  Preferably farm eggs, but as always local, organic and cage-free will suffice.  
  • Butter (about one tsp.)
  • A small or medium sauce pan
  • A lid or something that can act as a lid (this can be in the form of a  plate even, anything that will seal the heat into the pan space)
  • Salt, pepper and various other seasonings of your choosing (preferably sea salt, though).  I use fresh cracked pepper, garlic powder and chia seeds.
  • Any other add-ons your would like to include, although absolutely not necessary.  Previously used examples: sliced avocado, sliced tomato, chopped fresh garlic, sauteed onion, sauteed kale, sliced ham, bacon(!)
  • Cheese, again, optional
  • Sliced bread
  • Coffee grinds, preferably of good quality
  • Water
  • A french press
  • Spatula

1.  Turn the oven on to anywhere between 300-350 degrees and place the allotted amount of toast onto the racks (this is, of course, if you don’t have a toaster like myself).

2. Turn the heat of one burner onto a low-medium flame and place the saucepan on top, allowing it to warm up for about 30 seconds.

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3.  Turn another burner onto medium and place a full kettle of water on top, allowing the water to heat while you cook eggs.

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4.  If using a french press, add coffee grinds to your press.

5.  Place butter in the pan and allow it to spread evenly over the pan as it melts.  Note: I use only real, unsalted butter with my eggs, it seems to protect the egg from burring or overcooking on the bottom and it tastes wonderful.  I do not use olive oil (burning or cooking olive oil a)has a lower smoking point and b) denatures the amino acids in the olive oil, negating the nutritional value entirely)

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6.  Exactly at the point the butter has melted, crack two eggs into the pan. IMPORTANT: MAKE SURE THE YOLKS ARE RESTING ON THE PERIMETER OF THE PAN, NOT IN THE CENTER WHERE THE HEAT IS CONCENTRATED.  The whites should immediately start to solidify and whiten upon contact with the pan, but shouldn’t start to sizzle too loudly or bubble.  If the latter occurs, turn the heat down and remove the pan from the heat for about 10 seconds until the eggs calm down.

7.  Season your eggs, minus salt.

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8.  Cover the pan.   Allow to sit for at least one minute, no more than 2 minutes.  If the yolk starts to develop a white film on top, uncover immediately.

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9.  Check the toast.  If only slightly crispy, turn it over and continue cooking.

10.  If kettle water steaming at this point, add your water to the coffee grinds.  Allow to sit while you complete the preparation of your eggs and toast.

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11.  If you would like to add cheese to your egg, this is the time to do so.  Uncover, sprinkle or grate cheese on top, and then re-cover your eggs.  

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12.  Remove from heat but allow eggs to stay covered in the pan until either the yolks are still squishy but white or the cheese has melted.  If yolks are firming up, uncover the pan immediately.

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13. Remove toast from oven.  If toast consistency has reached desired state, remove from heat and onto a plate, spreading butter immediately on the toast.  Turn off your oven (I always seem to forget that part, and then remember after having left the house).

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14.  Using a spatula, carefully place fried eggs on top of toast (or on a plate). 

15.  Press your coffee, then pour into a mug.  Add milk, sugar, or in my case, a spoonful of Oregon Chai powder and stir.

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16.  Salt your eggs lightly.  

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17. Arrange various add-ons to your egg and toast at this time.

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18. Bask in the deliciousness of a firm (but not chewy) egg white and warm yet still runny yolk on a crunchy piece of toast.  

19.  Take a sip of coffee.

20.  Appreciate the moment. 

(And the fourth?  That one I’m still keeping a secret.)

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Awareness in Food

In preparation for one of my most favorite holidays, I’m accepting a challenge to myself.   I’ve decided to devote these next nine days to kicking my own willpowers’s ass into shape.

I’m going dairy-free, gluten-free, refined sugar-free.  To clarify, it’s not because I think these foods in particular are “bad” for me.  Rather, it is because of my love for dairy, gluten, and sugary foods.  In monitoring my intake strictly for these next few days, I hope to become more in tune with how the foods I eat affect my body and mind.  I hope to detoxify my body by eating a mainly plant-based diet.  And most importantly, to grow a greater awareness with food.

This is why.

Nutrition is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  Like, A LOT.  How what we eat affects our body so deeply, more deeply than we know.

About a month ago, I got back into the practice of yoga and am already feeling the positive benefits both physically and mentally.  In thinking about the mind body relationship, I have seen how the choices of the mind can greatly affect one’s physical nature.  Choices in food are purely an act of the mind.

I often ask myself, what does it mean to eat healthy?   To eat meat or not to eat meat?  Grain-fed or grass-fed?Organic or sustainable?  Dairy or lactose-free?  Soy?  Gluten?  Carbohydrates?  Refined sugar, synthetic sugar substitutes, or no sugar at all?  What about high-fructose corn syrup? Is there such a thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fats?  Are processed foods okay in moderation?  Are all calories created equal?   Et cetera.

These are all questions that run through my mind constantly.  Some questions I believe to have more accurate answers to than others, but there is simply too much conflicting information out there to lay it out in black and white.  For the most part, though, it’s simple.  A healthy diet should include primarily plant-based foods (fruits and veggies), lots of nuts, seeds, complex carbohydrates, and healthy proteins.

More significant than the food itself, though, the key a healthy diet for me has recently become the cultivation of an awareness with food.  This is something that I’ve thus far habitually neglected.  I consider myself to be a balanced eater, but too often for me is food consumed mindlessly and without gratitude.  I am guilty of thoughtlessly grabbing a snack simply out of boredom, I do this all the time.  I also often find myself eating a meal too quickly, again, mindlessly.  This is also something that I hope to change.

By simply being aware, I can recognize when I’m actually hungry and when I’m just bored or eat out of habit.  I can be conscious of the circumstances under which the food is created.  I can consider whether the food I’m eating is something that was nurtured with respect and integrity, or a mass produced mishmash of chemicals and corn syrup.  Through my awareness, I may slow down and appreciate the sensations of a meal: the flavors, the texture, the atmosphere, and my company.  To listen to the feeling of satiety, and to witness how my food affects me both physically and mentally, that is to be mindful.

Please don’t misunderstand me: awareness does not necessarily mean one must eat a strictly “healthy” diet.  Rather, it simply implies that we should be cognizant of what we are putting in our bodies habitually, and to understand how it will affect us.  Consider alcohol: if you have eight drinks without taking a moment to consider the consequences of a severe hangover, you’re way more likely get after it!  However, I can bet that if you took the time to think about how crappy you’d feel the next day before having your second or third drink, you’d likely stick with only one or two.  But hey, if you want to party your ass off one night or eat a particularly indulgent meal every now and again and have understood the repercussions, I’m all for it (and I’ll probably join)!  Regardless of our choices though, we may develop a more direct relationship with certain foods (and drinks) and how they affect our bodies and minds through awareness.  That is, particularly if well-being is a priority for you.

I often wonder, do I have control over the foods I eat, or do the foods that I eat control me?  I would like to think that I have control, but the latter becomes the truth all too often.  To have complete control of your diet takes a great deal of effort, patience and willpower, so much so that I often doubt my own abilities.  From simply abstaining from reaching into the cabinet for those yummy goldfish crackers, to opting for a healthier option on a menu chock full of greasy deliciousness. Strengthening willpower is as crucial to your health and well-being as frequent exercise.  Being mindful of my intake is the first step.

Today is Day 1 of my challenge, and so far I’m going strong on a green juice of kale, cucumber, an apple, and a few carrots.  Having a juicer is so crucial, and I want to thank my parents for that!

I will keep you updated on my observations and findings.

Hot Dog Relish, a recipe by Norma Gibbs

Cheers to those extraordinary moments, those breathtakingly beautiful landscapes, those unexpected connections.  The ones in which my spirit awakens, in which I feel most alive and for which I am filled with a deep sense of appreciation.

It is to a place seen only by those fortunate few that I dedicate this piece.

I never expected to find myself at a lake in the middle of Michigan.  I never expected to fall in love with this place either, let alone visit here at all.  But I did, three times over.

The lake is called Higgins, and it’s where the Gillespie family has called their summertime home for over three generations.

With each visit I am shown again of the unwavering generosity and warmest of welcomes.

To visit Lake Higgins is to take a step back in time, to a slower pace unconcerned with life’s most consuming trivialities.  Anyone is invited, everyone pitches in, and nobody’s counting.  Out there, it’s about the simplest forms of enjoyment, and enjoyment there is to be had.  It’s a gift alone to be a part of it.

The Gillespies have a neighbor and friend who also spends her summers at the lake.  Her name is Foxy, and her effervescent demeanor is a welcomed wake in the tranquil morning waters of Higgins. She’s just a joy to know.

When she heard of my passion for slow foods, canning, and farming, her excitement grew impossibly greater.  She grew up on a farm, she told me, and she’s been eating food from jars since before refrigerators were a household staple.  She even offered me a taste of her latest batch of homemade hot dog relish for me to taste and a recipe to bring home. It was her Grandma Norma’s recipe from when she was just a child, and it was simply delicious.

I followed the recipe once I returned home to Portland.

In cooking recipes both traditional and unique, there is something to be said for those tried and true, the ones that are passed down from generations before.  For in those dishes lies the flavor of hard work and memories, the flavor of deeply rooted family traditions.  It is the flavor of a weekend spent at Lake Higgins.

Hot Dog Relish, a recipe by Norma Gibbs

Ingredients

  • 3 cups ground (well chopped) cucumbers
  • 3 cups ground onions
  • 3 cups chopped celery
  • 2 Hungarian hot peppers
  • 2 ground sweet red or yellow peppers
  • 3/4 cup salt
  • 1 1/2 quarts water
  • 1 quart white vinegar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. mustard seed
  • 2 Tbsp. celery seed

Add salt to water, combine and add to vegetables.  Let sit overnight.  Drain and rinse lightly.

Heat white vinegar, sugar, mustard seed and celery seed to boil. Add vegetables and cook slowly, 10 minutes. Seal in hot jars.

A special thank you to The Gillespie Family for an always wonderful visit to Michigan and the lake.  Also, to Foxy for the inspiration and wonderful family recipe.

Raspberry Summer Squash Flax Muffins

This past saturday Tim and I took the puppy to the Oregon coast to splash around in the ocean waves.  We drove up through Astoria and drank some local brews at the Fort George Taproom, then headed south and stopped at a few spots along the way, including a delicious dinner and sunset beach stroll at Cannon.  It was quite the lovely adventure, really.

Bittersweet it was though, as this was one of the very, very few times the two three of us have had a day off together since we moved to Portland.  You see, Tim works a relatively normal work week but I, on the other hand, have a work schedule that is far more out of wack.  Sometimes I work days, other times nights, and almost always on the weekends with the lovely Plate & Pitchfork.  

Being by the ocean never fails to offer a welcomed change of perspective for me.  Its vastness is humbling, and the significance of day to day issues and stresses that normally get me just seem to slip away.  There is an impermanence about the ocean that I also take comfort in: the ebb and flow, the way the tide rolls in and out, the waves crashing in at one moment, and then retreating back the next.  

  Photography and film by my aunt Cheryl.

This week marks a welcomed last several days of a disappointing summer serving gig.  It wasn’t right.  It wasn’t even close to what I needed to be doing and this became apparent as my summer was gluttonously swallowed by my the time spent at work.  Here in my world, when it rains, it pours.  I’ve spent the past three weeks without a full day off, and it’s taken its toll on my soul.

Sometimes you just have to go with your gut, and I did.  I quit without alternative plans except for several remaining events with Plate & Pitchfork, a few suggestions and a hopeful interview for a new restaurant owned by perhaps the most well-respected chef in Portland, Vitaly Paley.

I got the job.  And mostly because I truly meant every word I spoke and wore it all on my sleeve.  It starts at the end of August, and until then I can relax and enjoy the ebb of the final days of my first Portland summer.  But first, to spend a long weekend at one of the most relaxing retreats I could imagine: Tim’s family’s cabin on Like Higgins in Michigan.

But back to our oceanic adventure.

As a sweet end to a beautiful day, we returned home to find this gift bestowed upon our dining room table.  It certainly isn’t a bad thing to have neighbors with a thriving vegetable garden.

So I made some muffins.  Because let’s be honest…who doesn’t love muffins?

Raspberry Summer Squash Flax MuffinsYields 12 muffins

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar (I used the raw Trader Joe’s kind)
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 large organic summer squash
  • 1 cup raspberries (I used organic frozen, but you can certainly use fresh)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated is best!)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp. flax seeds
  • Non-stick cooking spray for muffin tins (I used vegetable oil to coat the tins, but spray is easier)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grate summer squash using a large cheese grater, and set aside.  Combine sugar, vegetable oil and eggs into a small bowl.  Stir to combine, then set aside.   In a separate bowl, combine all dry ingredients including flax seeds, and stir to combine.  Incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry.  Add grated squash, stir.  Fold in frozen raspberries, being careful not to over-stir at this point (because your batter will become pink and your raspberries will lose their body).  Pour batter to about 3/4 of the way up the tin using a spoon.  Place in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick or metal object placed inside one of the muffins comes out dry.  


Garden Greens with Grilled Peaches and Figs

The other day on my way to the dog park, I saw a sign for an estate sale in bright orange paint on a bright yellow poster.  Now, seeing as every four houses on a saturday in Portland is either having a garage sale or an estate sale, I normally wouldn’t detour too far out of my way for one unless I was truly on the hunt.  But this sign, for some reason, called to me.  I turned a sharp right on the next street, found a parking spot and went inside.  Among piles and piles of needless stuff,  I almost immediately spotted and couldn’t take my eyes off of a cast iron grill pan that was sitting quietly in the corner of the kitchen.  I couldn’t leave without it, and I knew I had to have it.  Instantly we were bonded.  It may sound silly, but it almost felt to me as if it had spent its entire existence at this house so that it would be sold, for eight dollars, to me.

Serendipity.  It’s not just a horribly cheesy movie.  It’s also pretty much how I try to live my life.  Opportunities present themselves, sometimes in the form of a job or experience opportunity, sometimes in new and old friends and acquaintances, and sometimes in bright yellow signs with orange paint.  I make an effort to leave space and time in my life for spontaneity, and for the most part I am rewarded.  I’ve also learned to let the things go which do not bring positivity into my life without necessarily being prepared to replace it.  Usually, in this case I am rewarded too.

It’s not easy moving to a new place without having any sort of concrete plans or a solid friend base.  I have my boyfriend, who’s not only a boyfriend but a true friend above all else.  We have an amazing puppy.  We both have at least one job that fulfills us, that makes us happy and has rewarded us in some way.  We are meeting some great people.  We’ve already encountered bumps in the road, impediments that force us to make difficult decisions and sometimes ones with unforeseeable outcomes.  But in making time for the good stuff, and in weeding out the bad, we are making it happen.  Slowly, things are coming together.

I received some great news today, and consequently spent the morning tearfully overjoyed and hugging my puppy.  Yes, good things are brewing on the home front.  Sorry to leave you in suspense, but it’s too early to divulge…and no, I’m not pregnant.  Just wanted to clear that one up.

So instead, I’ll just leave you with this recipe for garden greens with grilled peaches and figs.  There’s really nothing serendipitous about it, except for the fact that I used my amazing new-ish cast iron grill pan and it met- nay surpassed- my expectations.

Garden Greens with Grilled Peaches and Figs

Ingredients:

  • Juicy peaches
  • figs
  • An assortment of garden greens.  Mostly arugula and spinach.
  • Mint
  • Pistachios
  • Some kind of crumbly cheese.  I used homemade farmer’s cheese from my Portland Culinary Workshop class)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Juice of half a lemon

Start by gathering your greens.  Farmer’s Market, Trader Joe’s, New Seasons, your neighbor’s garden.  Don’t matta.  Just pick up a bunch and make sure they’re organic and healthy looking.  None of that supermarket iceburg crap.

For this salad, I mooched some spicy arugula, refreshing spinach, and cooling mint leaves from my neighbor’s backyard.  Rinsed, chopped, thrown into a bowl.

Chop the peaches into slices, half the figs and place on a sizzling hot griddle pan with maybe a drizzle of olive oil.  Allow to grill for a few minutes on each side, using tongs to flip, until the fruit is softened and has some grill marks on both sides.

Meanwhile, shell some pistachios.  Use a knife to smush and crack them into smaller pieces (as you would a garlic clove to remove the peel) and throw them in a small pan on low to medium heat for a few minutes to bring out a roasted nutty flavor. Watch carefully so as not to burn, as nuts can and will burn quickly if you don’t keep an eye on them.    Remove from heat, allow to cool.

When your fruit is sufficiently grilled, turn off the heat and remove from the grillpan (or grill).  Allow to cool then cut into chunks.

Assemble the salad.  Throw the greens into a bowl, sprinkle the pistachio, grilled fruit, and some goat cheese, farmer’s cheese, or feta.  Or maybe even blue cheese if you have that on hand instead.  Drizzle generously with a mix of olive oil, salt, pepper, and the juice of half a lemon.  Take a moment to appreciate the simple beauty of the dish.

And then devour.

Simply Roasted Cherries with Rosemary

I would like to start by saying: my aunt Jane is an amazing lady.

Not only did she send me this antique cherry picker she found at a garage sale a couple of weeks ago, but she is pretty much responsible for my complete and utter obsession with garage sale-ing and flea market-ing.  She also taught me how to bargain.  Before I was even ten years old.  Believe it.

She’d take me to garage sales and flea markets all over the Bay Area on the weekends, and helped me to start a small ceramic dog collection by showing me the bargaining ropes. For you newbies, I’m talking about how to suggest a price that’s well lower than what’s listed and then slowly work your way to the middle.   Or how to pretend like you only have only two dollars in your wallet when you actually have ten.  It’s a skill that, as insignificant as it may seem to you, is incredibly important to me to this day, and especially so now that I’m living in Portland, the garage sale capitol of the world.

There are many, many other life’s lessons and skills that I’ve learned from Aunt Jane, but today I’m thankful for our common appreciation for antiques (especially kitchenware) and good bargains.

Might I add, she’s also quite the cooking extraordinaire, and one of my first true kitchen role models growing up.

I hope she would approve of this simple, yet delicious creation.  Something tells me she would.

Simply Roasted Cherries with Rosemary 

Ingredients

  • A whole bunch o’ cherries, washed and de-stemmed
  • A sprig or two of rosemary, de-stemmed and roughly chopped

You don’t necessarily need a cherry pitter, although it is quite handy and useful!

First you must preheat the oven to a low and slow 250 degrees.  As it’s heating up, you will want to pit your cherries.  I’ve seen recipes where people roast cherries with the pits in, or even entirely whole and with the stems still attached, but I’d rather avoid the nuisance and since I now have a cherry pitter, I went all out on the preparation.  De-stemmed, pitted, halved, the whole nine yards.

So yes, chop in half, and spread onto a baking sheet, skin side down.  Sprinkle with coursely chopped rosemary, and place in the oven.  Allow to bake for at least an hour, if not more, keeping an eye to watch for burning.  Bubbling or crackling noises are okay.  After a long while, your cherries should have shunk to about half their original size, browned or crisped up a bit, and shriveled up like your skin after a long bath (how’s that for kitchen imagery?). If you pop one into your mouth, you will notice how the flavor and sweetness of the cherry is greatly enhanced.

From this point forward, the world is your oyster!  Er, cherry.  You may do with them what you please.  Pop them in your mouth as a healthy snack, throw them on some crackers with your favorite chevre as a beautiful and delicious appetizer, add them to fresh greens in a salad, or even incorporate them into a pastry of your choosing.  It would be utterly impossible to find dissatisfaction in your outcome.

Now, this recipe isn’t quite brain surgery.  In fact, it’s safe to say you could probably do it blindfolded.  It’s the concept that I’m trying to emphasize here, that uncommon pairings of fruits and herbs can and DO go well together.  Also, that fruit can be enjoyed in more ways than just fresh, or in a pie or pastry.  In fact, in many cases roasting or grilling is an incredibly useful method for enhancing the sweetness of the fruit.  It’s also a fabulous way to disguise fruit that you’ve allowed to go a day or two past it’s prime.

If you want to cook simply and do it well, then you will allow the ingredients to speak for themselves.  This is what I’m learning.

 

 

 

 

Cheesy Vegan Kale Chips

This isn’t the first time I’ve done a blog post devoted to kale chips, but they’re just so gosh darn delicious (and addicting, I might add) that they deserve to be brought back to the forefront of my blog for this evening.

HA! Tricked you.  You totally thought this was my veggie garden, didn’t you?

I WISH.

Actually, my rad new neighbor(s) stopped by for a chat this morning and mentioned that their backyard veggie garden is in serious summer surplus mode and demand is at a premium.  It’s. A. Rough. Life. For. Us.

As a self-diagnosed veggie hoarder (note the pic of the current state of my fruit/veg drawer in the fridge), I pretty much teleported myself to their backyard as soon as I possibly could to get my hands on some.

Among the wide variety of awesomeness I found, I came home with some basil, rosemary, a few leaves of rainbow chard, and kale.  I have some manners.  Some.

Having just picked up a new bunch of purple kale at the farmer’s market yesterday, I knew that throwing the leaves in the fridge would likely result in a mess of yucky smelly goo on the bottom of the veggie bin. It’s never a good thing to let fresh food go to waste, let alone a very nasty waste.   And anyone who’s ever suddenly found themselves with a surplus of kale can likely attest to this phenomenon.  If not, then you my friend are a jedi of kale.   But for us less gifted, there is one solution to this problem and it is a good one at that: kale chips.  Make a batch and, I swear, you’ll be down to a workable amount of fresh kale before you know it.  These babies are so addicting (and guilt-free), they’ll be gone before you leave the kitchen.  Literally.  As in, I put them in a bowl to share with everyone else and just stood in front of the bowl shoving them in my mouth for like five minutes until they were gone.

Cheesy Vegan Kale Chips 

Ingredients:

  • One bunch of organic kale, de-stemmed and chopped into large pieces
  • One healthy dose of olive oil, maybe two to three tablespoons, poured in small increments
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Chili Flakes
  • Two or three large pinches of nutritional yeast (“healthier” alternative to cheese, many vegans use it as a substitute to that cheesy flavor.  For instance, my old roommate Susan used to make vegan mac ‘n cheese with nutritional yeast.  It doesn’t compare to cheese in texture by any means, but I actually really enjoy using it  on popcorn, scrambled eggs, kale chips, etc.)

Preheat oven to 250 (any higher and your kale chips will burn).  In a bowl, toss kale with the rest of ingredients and ensure an even coating.  Spread out evenly on a baking sheet or large piece of aluminum foil.

Place in oven and bake for about an hour, or until the chips are completely dehydrated and crispy.  Remove from oven, and enjoy.

Lesson learned today: Dino kale is the best type of kale to use for chips due to its rigidity.  It’s the kind with the long and thinner crinkled dark green leaves pictured above.  A close second is the green kale- the firm, almost sharp looking leaves that you can usually find in the market or grocery store.  Try to avoid using Russian or Purple kale.  Also, don’t over oil the greens.  Use only enough to very thinly coat each leaf, as the oilyness comes out when crispy and the idea is to avoid greasiness.

Blueberry Honey Yogurt Pops

Improv in the Kitchen.  It’s a game a like to play quite often, really.  When you buy something at the store or market without any intention of what to do with it.  So you open your fridge and cabinets, checking out what you have and could possibly combine with said ingredient to make something awesome.  Sometimes the end product is an epic fail and other times it’s great! You never really know what you’re gonna get, but that’s the fun of it.  You should try it sometime.

For this past episode of Improve in the Kitchen, the key ingredient was blueberries. To be honest with you, I’m on the fence with blueberries.  I like them, I do.  I can almost feel my immune system flex as I nibble away on the juicy little blue balls of antioxidant awesome.  And you have to give the blueberry some credit for its adaptability.  She knows how to play it cool, to chill on the sidelines, to be that wingwoman that’s always down to go out  and have a few drinks with you after you’ve broken up with your boyfriend for the fifth time and need to vent about it.  But after a few drinks, you realize that you really just want to dance.  Try as you might to bring her along for a few tequila shots and an epic dance floor sesh, she’s not really into that.  Yeah, she’s just kind of boring.  She’s sweet and compliments others well, but a blueberry just isn’t that exciting.

Enough blueberry bashing.  I feel very strongly about second chances, about finding the best in everything and everyone. Sort of.  And anyone who knows anything about blueberries knows that the frozen kind is far superior to the fresh form. So in the spirit of frozen blueberries, I turned this batch into popsicles, because on a hot summer day there’s almost no such thing as a bad popsicle.  And after we demolished the badass batch of cilantro lime popsicles, I’ve been having very serious popsicle withdrawals.

This is how it all went down:

I took these babies, washed them and threw them in a saucepan with a cup or so of water and a couple tablespoons of honey on medium heat.  While this was happening, I found some plain yogurt in the fridge and mixed a cup or so with honey to incorporate a bold tart/sweet flavor into the mix.  After all the honey had melted into the liquid and the blueberries were bursting, I removed it from the stovetop to cool down.

Next, the mixture went into the blender.

Then through a cheesecloth into a bowl to strain all the larger particles and skin pieces out.

I poured a little of the yogurt/honey mixture into each, then added the blueberry/honey mix on top being careful in pouring softly to maintain the separation.  I froze them for an hour or so, stabbed them with popsicle sticks and then froze for a few more hours.

AND BAM! Blueberries, they’re alright in my book.

Plate & Pitchfork: Champoeg Farm est. 1856

This gallery contains 20 photos.

Yesterday began my first experience as a staff member of Plate & Pitchfork, a Portland-based company that brings the dining experience to farms throughout the greater Portland area in the summer season.  Each weekend Plate & Pitchfork hosts these events, which include a farm tour, guest speakers, and an ingredient-driven coursed dinner with wine and beer … Continue reading

Repurposing: The Fourth “R”

You’ve heard the expression “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” a million times probably, the Three R’s so commonly stated in anything sustainability-related.  Well, I propose we add a fourth: repurpose.  Sure, this could pertain to the typical recyclables here, but that’s not what I’m referring to.  I’m speaking strictly of the kitchen, where the cooking happens.  Food, specifically, and the incredible amount of waste we (I!) produce unnecessarily.

This is the story of how I came to take a stand against food waste, and how I plan to do my part in repurposing the foods I buy as much as possible.

A few months back an old Snowmass Lifty friend came to visit.  His name is Ian, and he left after the ’10-’11 season in Snowmass to pursue his passion in the culinary art.  He currently works as Sous Chef at Edibles, a top class restaurant in Rochester, NY and is planning to attend an honors program at a culinary school in New York City in the fall.

Skirt steak and green beans over a brussel sprout, bacon and potato hash

Naturally, he cooked two incredibly delicious meals for a gathering of friends while he was in town.  One of them was skirt steak and green beans with a brussel sprout, bacon and potato hash, and the other was a pork tenderloin served over mushroom risotto.  Also naturally, I was right behind him every step of the way, asking a million questions and taking pictures of every little thing he did.

He pan sauteed the potatoes in reserved bacon grease, which he used to flavor many elements of the meal

There was a focus in his eyes that I admired greatly while he cooked.  There was a purpose in his every preparation, and there was an absolute patience that I have yet to develop.  But what struck me the most about the way he cooked was the use of almost every meat scrap he trimmed and every part of the vegetables he diced.  Almost nothing went directly into the trash without being utilized in some way.  He told me that he often saves vegetable scraps from previous meals in a bowl in the fridge, using them to create a broth or sauce when he wants the extra depth of flavors.  “Fat”, he says unfailingly, “equals flavor”.  I assume he would say the same for vegetable skins, scraps and ends as well.  Absolute genius, this kid is!

Into this sauce he added beef fat trimmings, red wine, water, whole peppercorns, bay leaf, the skin and ends of an onion, salt, and butter

It’s this exact mentality that got me thinking about the amount of food we amateur chefs often waste in our preparation of a meal.  I had previously assumed that the fat trimmings and bacon grease should be disposed of immediately.  I never considered repurposing a lemon once the juice was squeezed, or the stem and skin of a vegetable that was not of immediate benefit to the meal.  It makes perfect sense now though, as I learn how to enhance my kitchen experience, that using these bits and pieces in nonconventional ways can not only enhance a flavor profile but also tie the elements of a meal together simply and without over-seasoning, which is crucial to a well-rounded meal.

Then, I stumbled upon the book An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler.  It is a book in which the ideas are as invaluable as they are numerous (and with almost 300 pages, that’s a lot of ideas).   A main theme, I gather, is how to enhance flavors through simple cooking, mostly by repurposing pieces of your last meals to utilize in future cooking.  She says “the bones and shells and peels of things are where a lot of their goodness resides…the skins from onions, green tops from leeks, stems from herbs must all be swept directly into a pot instead of into a garbage.  Along with the bones from a chicken, raw or cooked, they are what it takes to make chicken stock, which you need never buy, once you decide to keep its ingredients instead of throwing them away.” (p. 81).  It makes sense that when you buy a whole ingredient you would want to make the most out of your purchase.  Another suggestion: “save the lovely green murk from the Swiss chard pan to warm the Swiss chard tomorrow, which will be happier for the chance to spend time with yesterday’s more experienced cooking” (p. 82).  This idea is applicable to far more than Swiss chard, just as this book is applicable, clearly, to far more than what I’ve described in this post.  I suggest that you read it.  Like…NOW.

Fat trimmings, skin and bones of meat can, and should, produce the richest broths when boiled in water.  But what about fruits and vegetables?  Citrus peels should be zested before they’re tossed, or further could be combined with sugar and water to produce a citrus simple syrup or be made into a marmalade to spread on some crusty toast.  You can save your fruit and veggie scraps in a small bowl in the fridge for up to a few days when you have the time to boil them in water and strain the ingredients to create a simple, easy and beautiful homemade vegetable broth.  Or take a handful of wilted greens and throw them in a blender with some garlic, a ton of olive oil and some toasted nuts and you’ve got yourself a homemade pesto.  You’re hopefully starting to get the idea here.

A mix of rainbow chard, celery stalks, celery leaves, parsley, and garlic

So, yesterday I found a whole bunch of wilted greens that were somehow forgotten among the kitchen frenzy that exists in this apartment of five.  In the spirit of Ian, I seized the opportunity to do something good for myself, the integrity of the greens and even the environment.  I coursely chopped the bunch, added it to some water in a saucepan and brought it to a boil.  To this mix I added a dash of salt, a couple cloves of whole garlic, and the core and skin of a tomato which I had just blanched for a different recipe.  Once boiling, I reduced the heat to a simmer and allowed it to sit for an hour or so, strained the solids, poured the liquid into a jar and placed it straight into the fridge. Now that I have a flavorful broth available anytime the next meal calls, I can do away with the greens guilt-free, knowing that I was able to repurpose them rather than just throwing them out blindly.

Not only is it the environmentally conscious choice to repurpose your scraps, ends and wilted produce, but it’s also fun to get your creative juices flowing and leads to a more flavorful meal.  Quite importantly, though, and not always considered, it provides each individual ingredient with a purpose greater than one flavor in one meal.  By extracting flavors, nutrients and textures that might otherwise have been thrown out, you are extending the life of a plant or animal.  And for the amount of vitality plants and animals bestow upon us as humans, it’s really the least we can do.

Think about it.